Raihan looked up at the skylight in his bathroom. He turned the lights off and then turned them on. Off again, on again.
There were paw prints on his skylight.
His immediate thought was: ‘Better than hand prints,’ but still, the ceiling in his bathroom was vaulted, that’s quite a distance for a cat, maybe a raccoon, to get up to and traipse across.
Unless it was a familiar, he supposed.
Raihan’s phone pinged. Shaking his head, he left to go see who it was. Belatedly, he snapped his fingers, and the bathroom lights turned off.
Raihan had just set up his workstation outside when Piers dropped by. He gave a lazy greeting and lifted his guitar strap over his head, sitting on the lowest stair of Raihan’s porch and making himself comfortable.
“Didn’t expect you to be here so early.”
“Nothing better to do,” Piers said. “Thought I’d keep you company.”
As Raihan organized his herbs and counted potion bottles, Piers started a light melody on his guitar. He hadn’t been playing for more than a minute before a black and white striped raccoon suddenly popped into existence with a thick cloud of smoke. It looked around and immediately ran to Piers, plopping itself next to him.
“Is it weird that your familiar is so sensitive to your music?”
“I think it means he’s a great familiar,” Piers said smugly. “Tanuki has impeccable taste.”
Raihan measured a few leaves and placed them in the mortar, grinding them lightly. “Sure, whatever you say.”
Raihan tried to focus. The apothecary in town had finally offered to buy some stock and the last thing he needed was to ruin a batch and waste time searching for more ingredients. He got into a good rhythm by the time a little girl ran up to Raihan’s house, out of breath and pointing at Piers.
“There you are!” she huffed, jogging over and sweeping the raccoon up in her arms. “Why did you run off?”
“Tanuki can go wherever he wants, Marnie,” Piers said.
“We were playing!” she whined, squeezing the raccoon around the middle. It seemed to take it in stride, as if this happened often.
Raihan watched as Marnie continued to hold onto the familiar for dear life. The little thing, resigned to its fate, didn’t make an effort to escape. Raihan’s gaze drifted to its limp paws, swinging in time with Marnie.
Not that he would have cared, but Raihan was a little relieved to know that Piers hadn’t sent Tanuki to walk across his skylight at night.
“When can I get my own familiar?”
Piers sighed, setting his guitar on the floor. “I told you, sis, it’s not up to you. Familiars choose their witches.”
She pouted, pushing her cheek into the stark fur of Tanuki’s head. He seemed to sympathize, warbling softly as if to appease Marnie.
“You’ll find your match soon enough,” he said. He stood up slowly, patting her head. “Besides, I’m pretty sure Tanuki loves you more than me.”
Tanuki wiggled in Marnie’s grasp, trying to lick her face. She laughed, squeezing him tightly. Raihan kept his attention on his herbs, but couldn’t help smiling.
The following night, Raihan noticed a second trail of paw prints on his skylight. He couldn’t be sure, but it looked like they were going in the opposite direction of the first set. Weird. If he had the time, he’d take a ladder around and climb up, see if something was there attracting attention. His house was so old, he wouldn’t be surprised if berries from the nearby trees had fallen on his roof and somehow sprouted after all these years.
He threw his shirt into the laundry hamper and turned off the bathroom lights. Maybe another day.
Raihan took one last look at the row of potions on his kitchen counter. He had finished bottling and labeling them that morning, complete with his name and a little emblem. It wasn’t a lot, but he was excited to finally sell his creations. He didn’t actually like using magic for daily tasks like most witches did: waving their hands as they walked, conjuring items and moving things at their leisure. It felt too frivolous. No one had mentored him in magic when he was young so he only felt comfortable using it for deliberate purposes. Like making potions, there was a clear need for potions (at least the kind that he made), and he was proud every time he was able to craft the perfect remedy. So far, he had only made simple bottles for neighbors, or young witches who wandered into Hammerlocke City and couldn’t afford anything from the apothecary.
He hoped this would be the start of something bigger.
Raihan walked back home with a silly smile on his face. The clerk at the apothecary commissioned him for another batch of potions. His original set had sold out and they wanted more. Raihan had barely paid attention when the clerk handed him half the earnings up front, too happy and overwhelmed to do more than agree and leave without stumbling. He wished he could bottle this feeling, save it and spread it out over the next few days for when he had to find more herbs in the forest and spend hours grinding and mixing. Maybe it was possible? He’d have to remember to look into it.
As soon as he got home he changed and started making a list of plants to look for. One of the perks of living off of the beaten path was that he was literally minutes from the forest. Not to say there weren’t herbs sprinkled around the city, Hammerlocke was so old magic seemed to literally grow everywhere, but the plants in the forest tended to be heartier. And since he was the only one who ventured in there, he could monitor the plant population and make sure there was a healthy amount for the wild familiars who roamed the woods.
Speaking of, the moment he stepped into the shadow of the forest, two wispy creatures darted past him. They bounced off of trees and rocks, leaving a trail of magic behind. Raihan tried to leave them alone as much as possible when he foraged. He may not have had proper magical training, but he knew it was often a witch’s last mistake to mess with a wild familiar.
In the end, he was only able to find and gather a handful of the items on his list. Lately, there was a larger magical presence in the forest. He wasn’t sure if that meant more wild familiars, or bigger wild familiars. Neither option appealed to him, so he was content to pack it up early and start on his next batch of potions with what he found.
By the time there were several tracks of paw prints on Raihan’s skylight, he decided he had to do something. At night, when he turned on the bathroom light and looked up, he could see more prints than he could sky. Enough was enough.
Thankfully, he was so tall that by standing on the toilet tank, and then carefully on the metal rod of the shower curtain, he could reach the glass window of the skylight. It was rather flimsy, with two locks on opposite sides keeping the pane in place. Raihan unlocked both and pushed up, dislodging the glass and nudging it onto the roof. Using the smallest bit of magic, he gave himself a boost, peering outside. He didn’t see anything growing. It looked disappointingly ordinary: roof tiles and a few leaves. Not to mention, his roof was only flat around the skylight, so even if something was up here, it didn’t have much room to stay comfortably.
Raihan sighed and started gingerly lowering himself back down. So much for his unsolved mystery. At best, wild familiars were using his roof as a shortcut between the forest and the city. Nothing too exciting. Before he could slide the glass pane back into place, his phone pinged.
“Piers I swear…”
He jumped down, wiping his hands on his pants, and wandering into his bedroom. As soon as he answered, Piers went on a rant about how Marnie had tried using a spell to dye the white stripes of Tanuki’s fur pink, which Tanuki then reflected onto Piers. Between laughing himself into stitches and Piers threatening to come over and kick his ass, Raihan forgot to finish locking the skylight.
Raihan bolted upright, looking around his bedroom frantically. For a few moments, all he could hear was his blood rushing in his ears. Raihan swallowed, letting his eyes adjust to the dark. He gripped his bedsheets and then got up quickly, quietly. He picked up his alarm clock and crept a few feet, ready to bludgeon at the first sight of movement.
From his bedroom, Raihan could see a bit of his front door. It was still closed. Ok, so it had been a window. He headed for the living room, until a rustling noise caught his attention. He pivoted. It was coming… from the bathroom.
Raihan ran a hand through his hair. Guess that was one way to figure out what the hell had been traipsing across his roof.
He peered into the bathroom from a safe distance, seeing bits of broken glass on the sink counter and around the floor. Raihan inched forward. Enough moonlight flooded in that he could see the outline of the shower and shelves on the walls, nothing there.
Raihan’s gaze darted around until he realized whatever it was had fallen into his laundry hamper. He could make out something pushing and struggling at the bottom of the basket. From that alone, Raihan guessed it wasn’t too big. But if it was a wild familiar, size wouldn’t change anything. He’d gotten respectable bruises and cuts from frightened familiars no bigger than a mouse.
Setting the clock aside, Raihan reached for the light switch and braced himself. He flicked it on and held his arm up defensively.
The rustling stopped.
And then it started again, slower this time. Raihan wondered if he should bite the bullet and just look into the hamper but then a cloud of smoke appeared near the sink. Raihan quickly backed away. When it cleared, he was met with a bright, golden stare.
It was a cat.
Well, a cat-shaped familiar. It was a little bigger than Tanuki, if Raihan had to eyeball it, with thick fur and a full, fluffy tail. Its whiskers twitched as it stared at Raihan thoughtfully, and then it was gone with another puff of smoke.
It reappeared just in front of Raihan… in the air! Raihan instinctively reached out to catch it, but once it had a foothold, it stepped on Raihan’s chest, and then on his face, before jumping off and darting into the kitchen.
“H-Hey!” Raihan rubbed his arm over his eyes, shaking the fur off. “Where do you think you’re going?!”
For the next ungodly 30 minutes, Raihan chased the wild familiar around his house: its stray magic turned on all the lights, knocked over anything not affixed to a surface, and allowed it to teleport just out of Raihan’s grasp. Its goal seemed to be wearing Raihan to exhaustion, as it finally stopped and parked itself on the kitchen counter the moment Raihan slumped onto the couch.
“Why me…” he grumbled. He propped himself up enough so the cat was in his sights. It wasn’t fussed at all, grooming its messy fur at a leisurely pace. Raihan was at a loss, he didn’t want to fight a wild familiar indoors, and frankly, he was so tired and out of practice casting spells he didn’t like his odds. Raihan grumbled. Because it was still dark out and he didn’t think it could cause any more damage than it already had, Raihan decided sleep was the only reasonable option and passed out.
Raihan woke up when a stream of sunlight hit his face. Well, he actually woke up because he tried to roll away from the sunlight and rolled off the couch. He mumbled expletives into the floor as he got to his knees. As much as he wished it had been a dream, he knew it hadn’t been. Even before he could properly look around, Raihan could feel another magical presence in his house.
“Couldn’t leave those stupid paw prints alone, huh?”
When he finally surveyed the damage, he was surprised to see that his things were back in order. Everything he swore they had knocked over in their chase last night was where it belonged. Even the lights were turned off. Raihan bit his lip and jogged to the bathroom. The skylight had been repaired, locks, glass, and all.
“What in the…”
Raihan turned and peered into his hamper. The cat was curled comfortably on top of his clothes. It blinked at Raihan and then began unspooling itself, as if waking from a short rest.
Raihan stepped back, sliding the palms of his hands over his face. It was a wild familiar. It had been dancing on his skylight for days. It broke in (Raihan grudgingly admitted he was partially to blame for that), turned his house upside down, and then used its magic to put everything back in order.
A wild familiar… used its magic to benefit a witch it didn’t know. Did that happen?
He wasn’t exactly an expert on familiars, but from everything he had ever heard and read about them, they never offered their magic unless it was to their bonded witch.
Raihan fought the urge to flinch out of his skin. The cat had jumped out of the hamper and brushed the full length of its body against Raihan’s leg. He needed to be more alert. Anything could happen; he had to stay vigilant.
“Uh…” Raihan glanced down. “Good morning,” he finished lamely.
It looked up at him, eyes bright.
Raihan wanted to scream. It was talking telepathically to him. A wild familiar was talking telepathically to him! Maybe he was still asleep and this was all a fever dream.
He bit his lip, willing his body to calm down. If he kept panicking his magic would spike and that would definitely alert the familiar. He took a breath.
“D-Do you want breakfast?”
The cat’s ears perked up immediately. Food!
It ran into the kitchen, tail swishing back and forth like it owned the place. Raihan squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head. Right, food. Once he ate and inhaled a good amount of caffeine, surely, the situation would make more sense.
Raihan took another sip of his second cup of coffee. He watched as the familiar, sat on his kitchen counter, sniffed the plate of food in front of him. Its cat form was quite large, although Raihan attributed the bulk to its thick fur coat. In the daylight, it almost appeared dark purple, except for the lighter hue around its face leading down to its belly. The familiar’s eyes were its most distinctive feature, a brilliant gold color, sharp and observant. He wondered if the familiar had gold eyes in its human form, too. Piers said he had not expected Tanuki to retain his vibrant pink eye color when he took on his human form. It clashed terribly with his otherwise monochrome appearance, apparently. Raihan had to take his word for it, familiars did not transform in front of anyone but their bonded witches.
Purple and gold though, sounded like a nice combination.
He stifled a yawn, finishing his cup as the familiar started nibbling on a piece of buttered toast. Its third piece of buttered toast. Raihan knew familiars didn’t eat to survive; their own magic sustained them. If they did eat, it was for pleasure. He had fed wild familiars before, a berry here or there, and Tanuki loved stealing the meats out of the sandwiches Piers made. But he never witnessed a familiar eat so much. And it was just toast. When it had (politely) asked Raihan for a third slice he felt bad that he hadn’t put a little more effort into breakfast.
Leon looked up at him, crumbs and butter oil tangled in his whiskers. No!
His name was Leon. It was the first thing Raihan asked him, once he had finished cooking and Leon had hoisted himself onto the counter. He tried to keep his questions short and easy to answer. Familiars could talk telepathically to the witch they were bonded with easily, but in the case of wild familiars, the lack of connection made actual conversation difficult. It was like Leon’s sentences were filtered, and he only got every other word at best. So he avoided soliciting long answers. Although, that did make it hard to figure out why Leon was here in the first place.
When Raihan mentioned the skylight, he made a walking motion with his fingers, as if to ask why Leon kept going back and forth across it.
Leon had simply said: Lost!
And when Raihan asked if he had ever been to Hammerlocke City, Leon said: No!
Leon was also very enthusiastic, in both talking and eating. Raihan wondered if it was because of all the magic he had bundled inside him. Compared to Tanuki, Raihan could feel immense pressure exuding from Leon. Even his brief replies carried a spark of magic that almost tickled in Raihan’s mind. He could only assume it was a reflection of his power. It was similar to the recent energy he felt in the forest, only here he knew it all came from one familiar. So, what was a familiar like Leon doing in Hammerlocke?
Leon licked his paws, finishing off his meal before replying: Mysterious… power!
Raihan turned his mug in his hand. Leon had come to Hammerlocke in search of a mysterious power? That didn’t surprise him, Hammerlocke was one of the oldest cities in the region. Even though he lacked formal training, Raihan could feel the waves of old magic rolling off of aging buildings and historic artifacts.
Raihan startled when Leon appeared in front of him, head tilted.
“...Stay?” he repeated.
Leon nodded, readjusting his paws under him, waiting patiently.
Oh, Leon wanted to stay here? In his house? Raihan swallowed. Technically, he didn’t see any issue. Aside from their initial greeting, Leon had been very appropriate with his powers. He kept the majority of it bound around him so it didn’t overwhelm Raihan, and didn’t give off ill intent. It was odd though. Wild familiars usually kept their distance from humans and witches… unless they wanted to form a bond.
No, that couldn’t be it. Raihan hadn’t even used magic in front of Leon yet. Piers told him spontaneous bonds were possible in certain circumstances, but bonds were permanent. A familiar as strong as Leon wouldn’t suggest a bond without seeing if their magic was at least compatible. He probably liked where Raihan’s house was located, close to the forest and away from the bustling city streets. He could rest safely and go off to explore at his own pace.
“Sure,” Raihan said. “For a little while, ok?”
Leon disappeared in a cloud of smoke and reappeared in the living room. He seemed intent on properly investigating Raihan’s house now that he wasn’t being chased.
Raihan sighed. It was just for a little while. He knew better than to risk angering a wild familiar by refusing its wishes. Who knows, maybe having him around would bring him good luck.
Leon often disappeared during the day. Raihan suspected he was exploring the city, in search of the “mysterious power”. Sometimes, when Raihan was running errands, he would catch a glimpse of Leon’s fluffy tail before he vanished down an alley. And even more frequently, Raihan would see Leon with other familiars: from large ravens to wispy snakes, it seemed like Leon was asking them for help in his search. Raihan didn’t bring it up, after all, Leon wasn’t his familiar.
At night, Leon would pop back into the house and go straight to sleep. In Raihan’s laundry hamper. Initially, Raihan thought it was because there were no little beds for him to choose from. Cats liked having soft cushions, so Raihan sacrificed a couple of his older pillows and placed them in the living room. He even fashioned a blanket into a donut-shape and told Leon to make himself comfortable.
Leon liked them for lounging. But not for sleeping. And whenever Raihan forgot about that, he was swiftly reminded.
Like the time Raihan had inadvertently thrown his pants into the hamper on top of Leon and spooked him. Leon teleported onto Raihan’s face and they’d both fallen into the shower. Or the time Raihan thought Leon had fallen asleep on the couch. He locked himself in the bathroom and even rifled through the hamper for good measure. But the moment he had finished his bath and turned off the water, he could hear Leon snoring from the bottom of the basket.
Raihan eventually conceded and relocated the hamper to his bedroom. He took out his dirty clothes, tossed in a few spare blankets, and let Leon have at it.
Sleeping arrangements aside, Leon was a welcome addition to Raihan’s house. The more comfortable he became, the more unrestrained he was with his magic. He turned on the lights when it got dark, summoned things Raihan couldn’t find, closed the curtains so they could both sleep in. Helpful, not intrusive. Raihan had expected the additional magical energy to feel stuffy, but Leon’s magic gently coexisted with his. The few herbs Raihan grew indoors even flourished from it. Leon didn’t take an interest in them though, or Raihan’s potion-making. He spent one or two afternoons watching Raihan grind and mix remedies in his outdoor workshop, but that was it. Raihan guessed a familiar as capable as Leon didn’t have a need for supplemental healing, which is the type of potion he made the most.
Leon’s power seemed to attract other familiars as well. Aside from the wild familiars near the woods (which Leon happily played with), the fox familiar who belonged to a trio of witch siblings immediately took notice. Raihan often helped the triplets by giving them free potions or showing them how he handled herbs. He knew they shared one familiar, but it had always been too shy to materialize in his presence. However, the first time the siblings visited after Leon moved in, their fox appeared and stopped them from getting too close to his house, as if wary of the unknown energy.
Raihan didn’t blame it for being cautious. Even after he explained the situation, the fox all but herded its witches away. He could see the triplets talk to it, but it ultimately vanished. While they apologized to Raihan and promised to come back another time, Raihan suddenly got an idea.
“Only you would foster a familiar,” Piers mumbled.
“He’s wild,” Raihan sighed. “I’m just… helping him.”
“Yeah, looks real wild to me,” Piers said sarcastically, watching Leon sniff and playfully headbutt Tanuki.
Once the triplets had gone home, Raihan called Piers and asked him to come over. He should have thought of it before. Raihan couldn’t fully understand Leon, but Tanuki could. And Tanuki was bonded with Piers so he could relay everything! If Raihan had more information about what Leon was looking for, he could help. Sure, he liked having Leon around, but wild familiars weren’t meant to live with witches.
“Go on, ask Tanuki to ask Leon what he’s searching for.”
“They’re still getting to know each other. Let them have fun.”
“We’re the ones doing you a favor, aren’t we?” Piers said. “Never said what we’d get out of this.”
“...My everlasting gratitude.”
Piers snorted. “So generous.”
Raihan was ready to bop him on the head when Piers sighed dramatically and waved his hand at him.
“Lunch. You owe me lunch, me and Tanuki.”
Piers whistled and Tanuki stopped sniffing Leon, turning to look at him. Raihan wondered if communicating telepathically with a bonded familiar felt vastly differently from how he spoke with Leon. Other than getting actual sentences, was that tickling sensation stronger? Did they feel each other’s magic to its full extent as opposed to the faint whispers he got from Leon?
Tanuki nodded at Piers and then nudged Leon, warbling at him. Leon paused his grooming, excitedly responding to Tanuki with a few chirps. He got to his paws after that and started running around. Tanuki glanced at Piers and then took off after Leon.
Piers shrugged. “Tanuki said Leon’s looking for a mysterious power.”
“W-Wha… I already knew that!” Raihan fumed. “What else did he say?”
“Ask him to elaborate!”
“Hey, we did what you asked,” Piers said, crossing his arms. “If you’re so curious, ask Leon yourself.”
“I did!” Raihan wanted to claw his eyes out. “But we’re not bonded, do you know how hard it is to talk to a wild familiar? We were practically playing charades.”
Piers didn’t even try to muffle his laugh. “Oh, right, forgot about that.”
Raihan pressed his lips into a fine line, not amused.
“It’s been a while! I’ve been able to hear Tanuki clearly since the day he suggested we form a bond,” Piers said. “Why does it even matter? Leon probably doesn’t need your help. You said it yourself, he goes looking every day. It’s only a matter of time.”
“Well excuse me for trying to do a good deed.”
“Right, because that’s why you’re opening your home to wild familiars.”
Raihan turned away from him. “Better to offer help than to anger him and face his wrath.”
Piers glanced at Leon and Tanuki. They were roughhousing, teleporting here and there, tagging each other lightly before switching roles and starting over.
“His wrath would be immeasurable, I’m sure,” Piers snarked.
Raihan grumbled. So much for his brilliant idea. He stuffed his hands in his hoodie and started to head inside, throwing a generic goodbye over his shoulder at Piers. As soon as he stepped on the porch, he was covered by a puff of smoke. Leon materialized on his shoulders, balancing his paws easily and sweeping his tail under Raihan’s neck like a scarf.
“O-Oh!” he startled, reaching up to touch Leon’s side and keep him from falling. “You don’t have to… I mean, you can keep playing with Tanuki.”
Leon responded by laying on his shoulders, as if ready to take a nap. Raihan didn’t even bother looking at Piers; he had a sneaking suspicion his friend was gleefully enjoying his predicament. So, he hunched over a bit to make sure Leon did not fall off, and went inside.
A few days later, Raihan started to notice Leon around the house more often in the afternoon. Whenever he came back from the apothecary or the general store, he’d spot Leon huddled in the closet, chittering under the living room table, boneless behind the window curtains. Even worse, his fur was more and more agitated, a sign Raihan learned was attributed to the state of his magic. On the rare occasion he witnessed Leon discharge magic, his fur would puff out as a result, straggly and unkept. Either Leon was running into aggressive familiars around town, or he was frustrated and his magic was not reacting well.
Raihan decided he had to try something. The last thing he wanted was for Leon to accidentally discharge his magic in town and hurt someone.
The following weekend, he got up early to make extra pieces of toast and load a backpack with snacks and supplies. He presented the plate of buttered bread to Leon as soon as he jumped out of the hamper, and told him they were going on an adventure. Leon’s ears perked up at that, and he inhaled the toast in record time. When they were both ready, Leon warbled and teleported onto Raihan’s shoulders, pleased with his high vantage point.
Having grown up in Hammerlocke, Raihan knew which buildings and alleys held a little extra magic. If Leon was looking for mysterious power, he’d bet good money it was coming from one of those areas. They explored for hours, with Raihan pointing out nooks and crannies that often drew in witches who were sensitive to Hammerlocke’s old magic. Leon also randomly disappeared in a puff of smoke when something caught his eye, popping over to investigate. Raihan did his best to keep up, nearly losing Leon altogether twice. For some reason, Leon always took the long way back to him. Even down straight alleys.
As the day went on, Leon spent more time lazily scouting from Raihan’s shoulders. Sensory overload, if Raihan had to guess. He was getting tired too, but wanted to try one more spot. So he quietly told stories about how he and Piers used to stumble across the cobblestone paths as kids, while feeding Leon the last of his snacks. Leon’s purrs, and the occasional bite on his fingers, were Raihan’s indication that he hadn’t fallen asleep.
Their last stop was Hammerlocke Spire, the central tower in the city. It gave off the strongest energy to Raihan. Powerful yet grounding. He remained optimistic as Leon took his time brushing against the ancient bricks, mingling his magic with it.
When Leon returned to his side, he looked up at Raihan.
Raihan frowned. Was this still not the mysterious power Leon was looking for? Or, maybe he’d come back here by himself later to properly investigate, without Raihan watching.
Leon headbutted Raihan’s thigh, meowing a little louder.
“Alright, alright, I get it,” he said. Raihan leaned down to pick up his bag, slinging it across his back before extending his arm a little. “Let’s go.”
Leon teleported to his shoulders, digging his claws into the thick material of Raihan’s hoodie before draping himself comfortably.
Leon’s magical energy evened out significantly after their tour of Hammerlocke. While he did vanish for most of the following day, he returned just as quickly and resumed his normal hamper-pilfering activities. Raihan wasn’t able to tell if he’d revisited the Spire, he’d never been good at detecting residual energy, but maybe the outing itself had done the trick. The wild familiars he’d run into naturally discharged magic when they ran or tumbled with other creatures. Leon probably didn’t do that in town to avoid being noticed and the bits of magic he released indoors must not have been sufficient relative to the sheer volume he had (another reason why wild familiars didn’t live with witches, Piers would say). But spending a day out where he could freely give and receive energy must have been what Leon’s system needed.
So, when Raihan peeked into the laundry hamper and saw Leon napping comfortably in the spare blankets, fur sleek and smooth, he figured he was fine and got ready to go into the forest.
Raihan read through his list, minding his step as he walked further into the forest. Thanks to Leon’s magic, the herbs he grew had multiplied enough to last him for the past few weeks. There were only a handful that he couldn’t successfully grow that he needed to go out and look for. Unfortunately, those were located in the deeper reaches of the woods.
Nearly every rustle or snapping sound he heard gave away a wild familiar, most likely following him. Raihan always did his best to ignore them. Wild familiars were curious by nature, but if he didn’t pay them any mind, they usually got bored and ignored him, too.
Which is why Raihan was surprised to see three or four wispy familiars circling his feet. The brush was up to his knees and he could barely make out their shapes, only clearly seeing their bright eyes, staring at him. Raihan swallowed. He slowly backtracked, careful not to step on them. They stayed in the grass for a moment, and then quickly zipped over to him, tangling his legs again.
“Why… why me, why me,” he whispered.
No matter which direction he went, they would wait a beat, but circle back within his space. Worse, the stray magic they naturally gave off was getting stronger, like they thought it was a game.
‘Maybe they sense Leon’s magic on me?’
Suddenly, the familiars froze, their eyes dimming. They vanished and reappeared behind Raihan, cowering. Raihan felt the air thicken, the magical energy multiplying faster than he could comprehend. He felt this before, weeks ago, and had a terrible suspicion what it was. He looked straight ahead, in the direction opposite him. Raihan couldn’t see a thing. There were too many trees, too many dark spots that could conceal its true form. But from the way the little familiars continued to hiss and shrink, he knew it was approaching. Raihan extended his magic outward, hoping he could better sense it that way.
And then he felt something.
Raihan dropped his list and the bag he’d been using to collect herbs. ...Something was limiting his movement. Or the sheer magical pressure was preventing him from moving.
That’s when he clearly saw it, a wild familiar far larger than any he’d encountered before. It lumbered on all fours towards him, its eerie gaze locked on Raihan.
It was stifling. Even drawing a full breath was a challenge. By the time he summoned enough energy to move, all he could do was take a shaky step backwards, causing him to fall over. The smaller familiars darted away quickly, each going in a different direction with a shriek.
That was what lived in the depths of the forest? A large… guardian familiar that watched over the smaller ones? Did it think Raihan was trying to take them?
When it bared its teeth, Raihan tried to form his magic into a shield, but it quickly broke with a roar - just a roar! - from the familiar. It leaned back on its haunches, waves of agitated energy washing off its pelt. And then it lunged at him. Raihan tried to bring his arm up in defense, anything to give him a chance--
He startled when he felt a familiar energy flow over him. Raihan looked up just as the cloud of smoke disappeared. Leon materialized between him and the wild familiar, along with a barrier, forcing space between them. Leon wasn’t hissing or in an attacking stance, he quietly held his ground, staring up at their aggressor.
Raihan noticed it was easier to breathe again, and he was able to sit up a bit. It was like Leon’s magic was pushing back the other familiar’s. He knew Leon was strong, but he had no idea he could stand toe-to-toe with something like this.
After a few moments, Leon warbled softly. The larger familiar growled, eyes shifting to Raihan. The weight of its stare alone made him sweat. Raihan could only imagine how long it’s lived in these woods, accumulating years or even centuries of magical energy.
Leon’s fur started to puff out, a barely visible static crackling the air. That drew the wild familiar’s attention. It opened its mouth enough to show its fangs, flicking its tail with intent, clearly not amused by Leon’s display. But the moment it tried to move forward it was met by a viscous recoil, the fur on its muzzle singed by something invisible. Leon dug his claws in, warbling a bit louder, almost decisively.
The large familiar snarled, but ultimately vanished, bits and pieces fading back into the depths of the woods until the air was clear again.
Raihan swallowed, attempting to slow his heart rate. When he tried to get up, his palm slid on some leaves and he fell flat on his back. He coughed weakly.
That’s when Leon came into view, peering down at him. His eyes were shockingly bright, glowing in a way that Raihan had never seen before. And then he blinked, and they were back to their normal, warm hue. Leon sat next to Raihan’s face, purring.
And perhaps, most appropriately, Raihan laughed. He closed his eyes and rubbed his fingers into his hair, mentally taxed and somehow… exhilarated.
Raihan reached out to touch Leon, until he remembered his manners. Just because familiars took the form of cute animals, did not mean they enjoyed being treated like one. But then Leon leaned into Raihan’s palm, pushing until he started massaging the comically poofy fur on his cheek. He smiled.
Following the disastrous trek into the forest, Raihan did his absolute best to make what herbs he had last. Even if it meant cutting back on his next potion restock, he felt like he should keep his distance from the woods until his magical energy faded. Leon agreed. Any time Raihan went outside to his workstation, Leon followed, sitting stubbornly between him and the path that led into the forest. Raihan had assured him he wasn’t going in, but still, Leon kept his post… at least until he got so bored from watching Raihan grind leaves that he fell asleep. When Raihan noticed, he went inside and brought a pillow out for Leon to sleep on.
Thankfully, Raihan only had to endure a couple days of Leon’s watch. Wild familiars had picked up on the magic Leon used to repel the larger, guardian familiar, and started approaching him near Raihan’s house. Leon still kept an eye on Raihan, but as soon as he started his clean-up routine, Leon felt comfortable running off to play with the wild familiars. He normally came back after the sun had set, quite happy to steal bits of Raihan’s dinner and loaf around until it was time to sleep.
But one day, Leon didn’t come back at sunset.
Raihan hadn’t been too concerned until he had finished both dinner and the dishes. He threw on his hoodie and stepped out into the evening air, walking to the path that led into the forest and looking around. It was times like this he wished he had a way of… summoning Leon. Or could send out a signal and receive one in return so he knew everything was ok. And then he remembered what Piers told him:
“He’s wild, you know.”
“Obviously? Then stop thinking he owes you anything. He could get up and leave any day, Raihan. Stop expecting him to be there the next morning.”
Raihan knew that. He knew Leon was wild. Hadn’t he been the one to say “for a little while” when Leon had asked to stay at the start? It didn’t matter how much Raihan liked the feeling of Leon’s magic mingling with his, or how stupidly fond he got every time he found Leon curled up in the laundry hamper. Wild familiars did not live with witches, only ones who offered a bond did.
And after all this time, Leon had never suggested forming a bond with Raihan.
Raihan felt a shiver run up his spine. He zipped up his hoodie and stuffed his hands in the pockets. He turned to go back inside. Leon could take care of himself. If he could stand up to a veritable forest guardian, he certainly did not need Raihan worrying about him.
He shook his head and opened the front door.
Raihan glanced over his shoulder, holding his breath.
“Leon!” Raihan yelled.
He jumped off the porch and sprinted back to where he was, to the path that led into the woods. Almost immediately, he could see a trail of smoke in the distance. Cloud after cloud of smoke, until Leon popped into view.
He was holding something by the scruff of its neck. Even when Leon finally materialized at Raihan’s feet, he couldn’t make out what it was. Or if it was alive.
Raihan kneeled down to gently take the creature from Leon’s mouth. It was small, even for a familiar, fur tattered and dirty, and shivering. But it was alive. Raihan tucked it into his hoodie for warmth and motioned for Leon to follow him back into the house.
Inside, he ran to the couch and pulled the blanket he kept there onto the cushions. He carefully placed the familiar on it, trying to see where it was hurt. Leon hoisted his front legs onto the couch, crying something akin to a whine.
“Shh, it’s ok,” Raihan whispered. He gently pushed the fur over the familiar’s belly aside, spotting a large, fresh gash. “I can heal it with my potions.”
Leon immediately used his magic to teleport all of Raihan’s filled bottles onto the floor beside them. Raihan mumbled, “You’re the best,” as he rifled through them until he found the right one. He uncorked it and spilled a bit of the liquid onto his hands, using his fingers to drip just enough onto the widest part of the wound. When the gash didn’t fade, Raihan rubbed his hands together and held them just over the familiar.
He hadn’t done this in a while. For a terrible moment, he was worried nothing would happen, that he was so out of practice he’d forgotten how, but then his hands started to glow, lighting up the potion, encouraging its healing capabilities. Raihan focused on the ingredients he had used, thinking about how they interacted, what they would mend when mixed together. The gash was slowly changing color, blending into the familiar’s skin tone, but it was so slow--
Leon appeared on his shoulders, his weight warm and comforting. He stared at the familiar. And then he closed his eyes, pressing into Raihan’s neck, lending his power to Raihan’s.
The wound disappeared in seconds, leaving no trace of its existence. The familiar twitched, its breathing returning to normal. It made a tiny noise as it relaxed into the blanket, easing itself to sleep. Raihan carefully ran his hand over its belly. Nothing, the injury was gone.
Leon purred happily. His whiskers vibrated and his tail swished along Raihan’s collar. Raihan glanced at Leon. He’d shared his powers with him. It was fleeting, but Raihan could still feel remnants gently flowing through his body, bits of vibrant energy enhancing his own magic. His heart beat so loudly it echoed in his ears. Raihan had never felt anything like it.
Leon brushed his cheek against Raihan’s briefly, and then jumped onto the couch. He curled up next to the small familiar, intent on keeping watch over it.
Raihan corked the bottle he had used and picked up the others scattered on the floor. As he slowly padded around the house, Leon stayed vigilant on the couch. Even when Raihan came by one more time to check on them before going to sleep, Leon didn’t say anything. His gold eyes were dim, staring at the familiar.
Having not used magic in such a long while, Raihan fell asleep as soon as he got into bed, exhausted by his efforts. It was a dreamless sleep, his mind as close to fully shut down as possible. That’s probably why he hadn’t noticed. Even after he woke up, Raihan had to physically get out of bed and walk to the living room to realize that both Leon and the familiar were gone.
Raihan spent the next few days convincing himself that Leon was helping the small familiar find its home, or making sure it was safe before leaving it. That sounded like something he would do. Or, maybe he picked up on the mysterious power and went to investigate. Raihan noticed Leon had a rather poor sense of direction, maybe he had gotten turned around.
“Stop expecting him to be there the next morning.”
Raihan kept himself busy: mixing a new potion to replace the one he had used, negotiating his next batch at the apothecary, restocking his general supplies and food stores. He did enough for days to turn into weeks. And then, a month had passed.
A month, and Raihan continued to make more breakfast than he could eat.
A month, and his herbs’ growth spurt stopped... Leon’s magic all but faded from the house.
A month, and Raihan still kept the laundry hamper in his bedroom.
When he finally called Piers to tell him, his friend was oddly sympathetic. Raihan didn’t register most of the conversation, Piers was very awkward when he tried to be kind and considerate. He said he’d stop by tomorrow, and then gently reminded Raihan that it was fine, wild familiars didn’t live with witches.
Raihan knew that. He was just sad that Leon hadn’t chosen him to be his witch.
Piers arrived the next day. He gave a lazy greeting, lifted his guitar strap over his head, and sat next to Raihan on the lowest stair of the porch. Piers asked him how he was doing and Raihan shrugged. So, Piers brought his guitar around and started a light melody. As expected, Tanuki appeared in a puff of smoke, running in a small circle near their feet at the pleasant sound.
“It’s so weird that your familiar is sensitive to your music.”
“You want to see weird? Hold that thought.”
Raihan wanted to ask, but decided he wouldn’t mind a bit of a surprise. He ended up tossing a few of the berries he had to Tanuki, listening to Piers play his guitar until Marnie ran over to them.
“Piers! Why didn’t you wait for me?”
“I told you I was leaving, not my fault.”
Marnie continued to pout, but Raihan didn’t pay attention to their bickering. He dropped the berry in his hand when he noticed what Marnie was holding in her arms.
It was a familiar. It was the small familiar he and Leon had healed a month ago!
Piers set his guitar down, a smirk on his lips. “Weird, huh?”
“What the… w-where... Marnie! Where did you get that familiar?!”
“Oh! Isn’t he cute?” she said, hugging it tightly. “We found him yesterday! He was eating berries in our backyard.”
At that, the familiar wiggled out of Marnie’s grip and ran over to Tanuki, quickly picking up the berries Raihan had dropped. It stuffed as many as it could into its mouth and then started exploring Raihan’s workstation. Marnie chased after it, with Tanuki following to keep watch.
Raihan whipped his head back to look at Piers, about to burst with questions.
“Marnie went to pick berries for Tanuki last night and found that little guy scarfing down our entire bush. He was quite friendly, didn’t mind coming inside as long as we gave him food. He even took a liking to Tanuki… must have been exposed to other familiars before.”
Piers leaned against the porch railing. “I didn’t see him, Raihan. But c’mon, it had to be Leon, right? After what you told me, it can’t be a coincidence that the familiar you two saved ended up in my backyard instead of, I don’t know, the forest or something.”
“Could you sense him? Maybe Tanuki--”
“I didn’t. I even asked Tanuki to look around after Marnie had gotten the little guy inside. Nothing.”
Raihan was shocked. He was happy, glad that the small familiar was ok, and he knew it was in great hands. Marnie would shower it with affection, and Tanuki would help it get stronger. From the way it enthusiastically played with Marnie, Raihan bet it would offer a bond once it grew into its powers a bit.
Leon must have guided it to their house. Leon had tailed Raihan to Piers and Marnie’s place plenty of times, and he knew Marnie didn’t have a familiar but desperately wanted one. It had to have been Leon.
...So where was he?
“Where do you think he went?” Raihan asked quietly.
Piers sighed. “To be honest? I thought he had gone back to you.”
Raihan had been too shell-shocked to properly function. Piers ended up herding him back to his house, and he spent a few days with them. It was refreshing, Piers and Marnie lived a little chaotically: meals at all hours, familiars discharging magic as they pleased, music playing no matter which room they were in. But it was nice, being so wholly enveloped in a life that wasn’t his.
Piers kicked him out by the weekend, sending him off with a bag of herbs from their garden and his (sincere) best wishes. Raihan appreciated it. He needed to get out of his head for a bit. Despite all he and Leon had gone through together, what it had meant to him, there was only so much within Raihan’s control. He would have to accept it, for the time being. But now he was ready to get back to the grind. He already had a couple of new potion ideas he wanted to test out and the supply he got from Piers would be a big help.
When he got home, Raihan carefully spread out the herbs on the kitchen counter and scribbled a rough draft of the ingredient list for each potion. Then he plucked a few empty bottles and arranged them with their lists. He was excited, he hadn’t made anything new in a while.
Raihan walked towards his bedroom, unzipping his hoodie along the way and tossing it into the hamper.
He was hearing things. He’d spent days absorbing all manner of music at Piers and Marnie’s, clearly, some of it was stuck in his head.
And then his laundry hamper rustled.
Raihan held his breath. It kept rustling.
He bit his lip, reaching out to touch the rim of the hamper. It stilled. When he looked inside, he could see his hoodie sleeves moving around, and then, after a small eternity, Leon’s warm, gold eyes stared up at him.
In a blink, Leon vanished and reappeared on the floor next to him. Raihan fell down, his words stuck in his throat.
Raihan! Where have you been?
Where had he been?
“Me?! Where have you been!” he practically yelled. “The day after we healed that familiar--you were gone! And, and that familiar showed up in Piers and Marnie’s place! You brought it there!”
Leon tilted his head, as if unsure why Raihan was shouting.
I tried to bring him back to the forest, but he was scared he would be attacked again. He would not leave me, and I did not think I should bring him back to you. Leon’s ears perked. Then I remembered that little girl! I showed him her house and he wanted to go.
Raihan nodded, just barely.
And I had to make sure. The mysterious power... I felt it. I had to make sure it was not the tower’s, or any other building’s. His whiskers twitched. Now I am sure.
“Sure of what?”
Leon’s eyes lit up. The mysterious power! It is Raihan’s magic!
I realized it when you used your magic to heal. I had not felt your magic that strongly until then, that is why my search never got me anywhere. I was always looking for Raihan!
Raihan sat up a little. It was his magic? Leon had been searching for his magic?!
Now that he thought about it… Leon hadn’t seen him cast magic since he arrived. Making potions was passive, he didn’t actively use magic to create them. His shield in the forest broke as soon as he had cast it, maybe Leon had only sensed enough of it to know he was in danger. The first time he properly used magic was when he was amplifying his potion’s power.
Once Leon was sure Raihan’s magic was the mysterious power, he had come back to him. Leon had been waiting for him.
“Am I… your witch?” he whispered.
Yes! Leon chirped. I am your familiar!
“You’re my familiar,” Raihan laughed, rubbing his eyes with the heel of his palm.
Leon scooted up to him, brushing against his legs. Raihan could feel him purr, his rumbling loud and affectionate. Now when they spoke, he could sense the full range of Leon’s power, how it gently intertwined with his, in the back of his mind. He felt warm, a deep soothing sensation filling his chest. Raihan brushed the back of his fingers across the ruff of Leon’s neck, hoping he could feel it, too.
Raihan woke up surrounded by Leon’s magic. It mingled with his own, filling the house with a vibrant energy. He had not realized just how much he missed it during the past month. Raihan smiled.
And then he frowned.
Out of the corner of his eye, Raihan noticed something purple. Purple... hair. He lifted his head. It belonged to a person, a man, lying on top of his bedsheets.
Raihan blinked, trying to work out what was happening despite his fatigue. Then he noticed his hoodie, draped haphazardly over the man’s back. Huh. He was pretty sure Leon had stolen that as a blanket last night--
Raihan dropped his head back onto the pillow. But, just to be sure...
The man stirred, sliding his face over the sheets and glancing up at Raihan, gazing at him with sleepy golden eyes.
“Good morning,” Raihan said quietly. He reached over, running his fingers through strands of Leon’s soft hair. He supposed Leon’s fur was a rich purple, in some places.
Leon yawned, and then vanished in a cloud of smoke. He reappeared in his cat form, stretching generously, before arranging himself on top of Raihan’s chest and going back to sleep.
Raihan chuckled, petting his familiar’s head gently. Maybe he could persuade Leon to stay in his human form more often.
At least then Raihan could put the laundry hamper back in the bathroom.